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    Learning About Your Health

    Understanding a Sodium-Controlled Diet

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    Your doctor recommends you control the amount of sodium in your diet. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that the daily allowance of sodium be limited to 2,400 mg or less. Your specific sodium allowance may be more restrictive than this level. You, your doctor, and a registered dietitian will review the foods you are eating and make recommendations for a sodium-controlled diet.

    What is Sodium?

    Sodium is a mineral that is essential for good health. All foods and beverages contain some amount of sodium, both natural and added.

    • Natural Sodium: Natural sodium is found in table salt (sodium chloride), fresh meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, potatoes, and rice.


    • Added Sodium: Added sodium is found in large amounts in many processed foods.


    • Note: Be patient; it will take your taste buds several weeks to adjust to the taste of a sodium-controlled diet.

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    Tips for Reducing Sodium in Your Diet

    • Remove the saltshaker from your table and stove.


    • Read food labels on packaging for sodium content. Guidelines are as follows:

      • Low Sodium: under 140 mg sodium per serving


      • Moderate Sodium: 140-400 mg sodium per serving


      • High Sodium: over 400 mg sodium per serving
    • Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.


    • Choose fresh meat, poultry, and fish.


    • Choose foods labeled “low sodium,” “sodium free,” or “salt free” products.


    • Check with your doctor before using a salt substitute, especially a potassium-based salt substitute.


    • Ask your pharmacist for the ingredient list for specific drugs (antacid/seltzer containing drugs).


    • Do not add any salt to the meals you prepare.


    • Do not add any salt to the water used to cook pasta or vegetables.


    • Avoid foods that have salt that you can see (for example, pretzels, chips, and crackers).


    • Avoid high sodium choices in fast foods and restaurant meals.

    Food GroupsCHOOSE these foods AVOID these foods
    Meat, Fish, Poultry, Eggs, Legumes/Beans Fresh fish, meat, poultry; Eggs: cooked unsalted, egg white and/or egg substitute; Low sodium canned tuna, fish, meats or beans; Low sodium nut butters, soy butters, unsalted nuts and soynuts, dry beans, peas, legumes, tofu and other low sodium soy productsHam, bacon, sausages, hot dogs/frankfurters, luncheon meats, cured/smoked meats, frozen “TV” dinners, frozen pot pies, sushi, anchovies, caviar, salted canned beans
    Dairy ProductsCheese: lower sodium cheeses; Milk, yogurtCheese: processed cheeses, cottage cheese, and other high sodium cheeses
    BreadsLow sodium bread, unsalted pretzels, unsalted popcorn, and crackersSalted pretzels, crackers, croutons, and salted popcorn
    Potatoes, Rice, Noodles White potato, sweet potato, yam, rice, noodles, macaroni, spaghettiSalted potato chips, salted french fries, pizza, commercial products made with salt or sodium added, such as prepared boxed foods (seasoned rices or stuffing mixes)
    CerealsLow sodium hot and dry cerealsHigh sodium cereals (hot and dry), instant hot cereal
    SoupsLow sodium broth, cream soups, bouillon, unsalted homemade soupsRegular bouillon, consommé, regular canned and package soups, salted soups
    Fruits, Vegetables Fresh, frozen fruits and vegetables, unsalted low sodium canned vegetablesCured vegetables such as olives, pickles, sauerkraut, canned tomatoes
    DessertsFruits, sorbet, sherbet, frozen dairy desserts (ice cream/frozen yogurt), home-made desserts with less sodium or no sodiumHigh sodium desserts
    Sugars, Sweets Sugar, honey, jam, jelly, candyHigh sodium sweets
    BeveragesCoffee, tea, fruit juices, soft drinks, and low sodium tomato and vegetable juicesTomato juice, vegetable juice, mineral water, softened water
    Condiments/Misc.Season with spices and herbs: cayenne, ground chili peppers, fresh or dried herbs, garlic; Use lemon or lime juice, vinegar, pepper, chives, pure spices, garlic and onion powder, dry mustard, chili powder, rosemary, sage, paprika, basil, bay leaf, caraway seeds, ginger, tabasco sauce, salt substitute with doctor’s permission; Use cocoa, extracts, anise seed, and cinnamonPrepared mustards, pickles, olives, relishes, soy sauce, seasoned salts, celery flakes, monosodium glutamate (MSG), garlic salt, horseradish, teriyaki sauce, meat sauces, meat tenderizers, mixed spices, regular baking powder and soda
    Fats, Oils Low sodium margarine or butter; Vegetable oils, unsalted nuts, and low sodium nut butter; Low sodium gravies, sauces, salad dressings, and mayonnaiseCanned meat sauces, salted gravies and sauces, packaged meat sauces, salted nuts, commercial salad dressings, party spreads and dips, bacon fat, salt pork

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    Cooking with Seasonings and Flavors

    To adjust your taste buds, use different seasonings and flavors. Here are some helpful tips on cooking with less sodium:

    • Think spicy, not salty. Add cayenne or ground chili peppers to spice up your foods.


    • Season foods with herbs, spices, lemon or lime juice. Use fresh or dried herbs and spices instead of seasoning mix packets.


    • Flavor with vinegars (red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, or balsamic vinegar).


    • Add plain garlic and onion powder rather than the salted versions.

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    Reading a Food Label

    Eating 1 cup of this food product contains 660 mg of sodium (see "A" below), which is 28% of the U.S. recommended sodium allowance of 2,400 mg per day (see "B" below). Because this is a high sodium product, you would not be allowed to eat any more food at this meal. You may want to reconsider eating this food.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Question: When reading a food label, do the words “reduced sodium” and “light in sodium” really mean it is a reduced sodium product?
    Answer: “Reduced sodium” means the sodium content is reduced by 25%. “Light in sodium” means the sodium content is reduced by 50%. Be aware these foods can still be high in sodium. Check the sodium content. For example: Regular Soy Sauce 1 Tablespoon = 1,000 mg and Light Soy Sauce 1 Tablespoon = 500 mg.

    Question: How many milligrams (mg) are found per serving in a “low sodium” product?
    Answer: 140 mg or less sodium per serving is considered a “low sodium” product.

    Question: Does “low sodium,” “unsalted” or “no added salt” on a food label mean that the product will contain no sodium?
    Answer: No, it means the food product will contain some sodium, but you need to know the amount. Read the food label to find the specific amount of sodium content per serving. Compare and choose the product with the least sodium content.

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    More Ways to Learn

    1. Visit the American Heart AssociationOpens new window website.


    2. Go to “Food and Nutrition TopicsOpens new window” on the American Dietetic Association website.


    3. Visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website and review the DASH diet eating planOpens new window.
    Note: This handout is also available in Chinese, Russian, and Spanish.



    Produced by the Center for Patient and Community Education in association with the staff and physicians at California Pacific Medical Center. Last updated: 11/04


    Funded by: A generous donation from the Mr. and Mrs. Arthur A. Ciocca Foundation.

    Note: This information is not meant to replace any information or personal medical advice which you get directly from your doctor(s). If you have any questions about this information, such as the risks or benefits of the treatment listed, please ask your doctor(s).

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